Earlier today I wrote about how the Braves should feel motivated to trade Julio Teheran, given all of the circumstances of the market. I believe what I said in that post, and I do think that, from a rational perspective, the time now is right to sell Teheran while he’s cruising. That all being said, this is sports, and at the core of this whole endeavor, there are fans, fans driven mostly by emotions. You know who likes Julio Teheran? Braves fans. You know who likes young, home-grown, up-and-coming players? Fans of teams like the Braves. Sure, it makes sense to sell high on Teheran. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. Losing sucks, and it makes a team do sucky things.
One way to feel better about this stuff, though, is to shift focus. Teheran has been a good young pitcher on a team that hasn’t had enough good young players. That’s part of why trading him would be painful. He’s not alone, however. There’s been a little bit of concern over who would start the game to open the new park next year, if Teheran goes away. Looks like there could be a fine internal option. If you want to think about the next No. 1 of the Braves, might I interest you in Mike Foltynewicz?
Foltynewicz has been a prospect for a long time because of his big and powerful fastball. Like many pitchers known mostly for big and powerful fastballs, Foltynewicz has a history of throwing an insufficient number of strikes. He was a part of the Astros’ trade for Evan Gattis, and back then, it was unclear whether Foltynewicz would be a starter or a reliever. He’s been with the Braves now for a year and a half.
To get to the point fast, two tables. One metric I like to play around with is a pitcher’s rate of pitches thrown while ahead in the count. Sure, strike rate works fine enough, but I like thinking in these terms. Let’s look at Foltynewicz’s last few seasons.
Mike Foltynewicz’s Developing Command
Foltynewicz was traded in January 2015. Before that, in the upper levels with the Astros, Foltynewicz threw a below-average rate of pitches while ahead in the count. As a Brave, Foltynewicz has moved forward, and he’s done so this year in a big way. How big? Well:
Top 10 Ahead Rates
Starting pitchers only, minimum of 500 pitches thrown.
This is just a snapshot in time, and between now and the end of the year, some numbers will shift around, but here you see Foltynewicz in the big-league lead. He’s thrown a greater rate of pitches while ahead in the count than anybody else, given the same role, and when you do that you give yourself a hell of an advantage. Foltynewicz keeps hitters on the defensive, and he’s doing this as a starter, a starter who the other day lasted 107 pitches. This isn’t the guy the Astros traded. This is a guy that guy could’ve become, but usually, pitchers stop short of developing this successfully.
It’s not like he’s an ace now. There’s polishing yet to be done, as Foltynewicz looks to get hitters to more often expand their zones. As has been the case for a while, he could stand to improve the secondary stuff. And! Bone chips. Foltynewicz is pitching with bone chips. But just look at where things are: Foltynewicz is a 24-year-old who can buzz triple digits, and he’s now frequently getting ahead in the count. More than ever before, Mike Foltynewicz is looking like he’s in command. The Braves have been collecting big arms with big risks. Here’s one that’s working out.